Imaginary Life

Ice Circle, a new Nordic snow and ice network

Imaginary Life recently was invited up to the Artic circle by artist Laila Kolostyak to help organise a seminar and workshop for over 20 selected snow and ice professionals from Russia, Finland, Sweden and Norway. The seminar was funded by Kulturkontakt Nord and the Norwegian Barents Secretariat and aimed to explore how Snow and Ice professionals can raise the profile of their work, as well as collaborate and share knowledge across borders on how to drive successful projects of all scales; from installations in nature parks, to interior and architectural design, to urban planning and urban reclamation and festival planning.

Keynote speakers included leading professionals such as Timo Jokela from the University of Lapland, Rovaniemi, known decades of spectacular land art, Jens Toms Ivarsson, Design Director at the world-famous ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden and Ole Morten Rokvam, an artist and craftsman who has curated leading events with snow and ice in Norway for over a decade. In addition, the artists from Kirovsk and Murmansk were exceptionally inspiring, sharing their festival and community work and bringing a lot of love and live music.

unique-ice-hotel-in-sweden-3

We spoke with Jens Thoms Ivarsson:

We were discussing the ‘eternal ephemerality’ or ice. Is that something Design can learn from?

Absolutely. Imagine: the earth was created at some point, some billions of years ago. The water we are working with could have come from a comet- its ancient and essential stuff. Two different materials met and collided, basically stone and water. They became a frozen moment. Hot lava froze into stone, and water turned into ice. It’s this moment of change that artists and designers often explore in the materials and contexts they work with. Moments of change. Tipping points. How materials age next together. How they behave. It’s fundamental stuff, but ice also teaches us about the nature of continuous change. The seasons, nature’s needs, human needs in winter climates, and of course, climate change. These are new frontiers for design in general. We always think about the negative aspects of snow and ice, how to get rid of it, how to avoid it. We’ve hardly scratched the surface of how to use it as a material.

How long is something ephemeral?

It’s a good question. It all depends on the point of view, the objectives of a project. We follow the melting process of the ICEHOTEL too- it is so beautiful. We spend so long making details, crafting interiors and design elements –always knowing it will melt and return to the river again. And during the process, the sound changes in the building, the atmosphere is fantastic. It’s not sad- its liberating. The ice hotel doesn’t collapse, it opens up in the centre to reveal the sky and the surroundings of the place where it started. There is so much new knowledge to be gained about snow and ice.

But there is a high risk of making mistakes working with such a volatile material?

Yes – but the volatility also opens possibilities. Designers always ask “How do I avoid mistakes?” Ernst Billgren’s book ‘Vad är Konst 2′ (What is art 2) says that the short answer is to sit very still! As soon as humans do something there are mistakes, but mistakes also lead to discoveries. All our genetic development and success is built on learning from mistakes. When I work in stone or concrete and it is placed in city, there is a lot of pressure as the object will lasts for a lifetime. Working in snow and ice is very freeing in a way. You can be more brave and experimental. Less self conscious and more playful.

How do you work with seasons of water and light at the ice hotel in Jukkasjärvi?

You’d think it all happens in the winter as the focus is on ice art but we are moving to all year round. In the summer there is rafting, fishing and other nature activities and the phenomenon of the sun never setting at night- that is a very special experience to have. Also we are preparing for the water to freeze long before it does. It’s the pivotal moment for us, as we invite artists from all over the world. And those artists are not all traditional ice sculptors. We work with people from all background to explore what they can create with ice as a material.

We can also funnel water from the river, and blow it through snow canons to create a material we call “snice” –manufactured snow. We can throw snow onto moulds. Sometimes we use reinforcement to create very large structures. We are also learning more ever year about how to use ice reinforcement. The old way is to create giant moulds for architectural structures where the walls are built with plywood moulds and filled with snice, much like the process for creating concrete buildings. By exploring ice reinforcement we open new doors to resourceful innovation in architecture.

How many people are involved in constructing the ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjärvi every year?

At the ICEHOTEL we have a team of over 50 people who work on the structure alone. Then there is all the finishing work on interior design, lighting and so on. Tools and methods are developing all the time and its important to share this knowledge.
Focus on working together is important – the joy comes when it is finished! One of the hardest jobs is being on roof in minus 35 connecting wires without gloves. It’s the engineers, technicians and ice workers we really have to thank! They make these ideas possible.

What other type of work do you do there?

One example is that we send ice and snice all over world- and send our engineers to make large events possible. For examples we created a catwalk for Chanel at the Grand Palais in Paris. We needed to install a cooling system for the 40 m long 8 m high catwalk. Karl Lagerfeld ordered it. We had to tell him not to wear boots not to get wet. He was great fun to work for. We asked him to lick the ice and he obliged!

One of my favourite projects that you showed at the seminar was the roundabout you made in a lake.

Yes, we cut out a huge disc in the river and added a boat engine. It was a simple intervention to see if the disc would rotate – and it did! It rotated at a perfectly even speed. It worked out better than we anticipated it would. Nature is like that.

Allen Grubesic. A random exhibiting artist.

An exhibition by Allen Grubesic promises a thought-provoking moment of clarity for people familiar with his work and those new to it. Stripping messaging back to its core essence is the nature of Grubesic’s practice. By focusing his energy on dissecting the very nature of communication and image making, Grubesic engineers works that are both politically relevant and visceral. Many artists aspire to provoke a personal questioning of the times in which we live. Few do manage to do it with such precision.

Grubesic doesn’t waste time or effort on avoiding categorisation. Text and sculptural objects are the main tools he uses to provoke an immediate emotional response in his audience that is certain to be followed by a cascade of connotations and interpretations. Grubesic playfully caricatures himself and his work so that it is visible in a world obsessed with packaging easy answers. Whether the works provoke a smile or a ‘WTF?’ response, the artist knows how to get your attention, and sustain it with poetic refinement.

Conspiracy Theory, 2010.

Conspiracy Theory, 2010.

 

Conspiracy Theory is a collection of 20 text-based hand screen-printed panels, placed in a random matrix to form a strategic messaging model that can be rearranged to create new hierarchies of ‘unexplained’ acronyms. It is data visualisation and big data gone analogue. The acronyms are iconic, modern-day hieroglyphics. Each familiar set of letters fronts a sinister background conspiracy theory. Your eyes and mind flitter back and forth between ‘CIA’ to ‘NSA’ to ‘HIV’ and back again, subliminally throwing up a plethora of associations. Our understanding of these commonly used acronyms is shaped by their representation in media.

Each ‘conspiracy theory’ is topical. The acronyms have been carefully chosen to balance precariously on the edge of ambiguity, hence the random placement. Each acronym is connected through association with its neighbours in the grid. You may associate the acronym WTF with ‘Wikileaks Task Force’ – but WTF is still the perfectly adequate and appropriate response. Does PDA represent ‘Public Display of Affection’ or ‘Personal Digital Assistant’? Both are equally poignant. The former can get you thrown out of a restaurant and into a prison – if you are gay. The latter is the major driver of a society that allows this happen, whilst giving us some semblance of personal freedom and choice as globally connected citizens. What was once considered ‘conspiracy theory’ is now widely accepted as fact.

The shift in ‘transparency’ is relatively very recent but also ongoing. The speed of media consumption is increasing at an exponential rate along with connectivity. We have reached a tipping point where the easiest way to disarm an idea is to ignore it and let it into the oblivion of history. In a hyper-connected world 3 minutes ago is history. Our personalized #WTF messages are continuously regurgitated into a diminishing ‘public’ realm as shared content. As Grubesic points out with Conspiracy Theory, this is not random, it is considered. A self-perpetuating system of self-imposed censorship is the ultimate Conspiracy Theory.

But it isn’t all gloom and doom. Grubesic’s sculptural works range from the strangely sexual Staring at the sun to the more humorous yet equally engaging Frying pans. Awareness, when coupled with humour, can liberate us from the banal. Grubesic’s work is thought provoking but it’s also a lot of fun. He uses the most efficient means possible to deliver an immediate emotional punch, but he always leaves you enough space to mediate your own relationship to the image you are confronted with.

The energy of the work is carefully weighed and harnessed so that it is an important part of your experience without being dominating. In Frying pans, the commentary shifts. The pans are imported ‘readymades’, but on closer inspection you can see they have been carefully sandblasted. Oversized cartoon-like eggs are manufactured with finesse; the plasticised matt finish is tactile and seductive. The image may be appropriated and amusing, but the production process is complex and considered. As representations of ceaseless and excessive production and consumption Frying pans is both obscene and refined.

Grubesic is obviously at home in the field of production he is participating in. Humour, detachment and critical thinking are all part of his practice. But his work is not cynical or bombastic. Grubesic humbly invites us to stand alongside him as critics and perpetrators of the culture we all share – with large amounts of wit and generosity.

About the artist.
Allen Grubesic (b. 1974) graduated from The Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm in 2003. He uses text, print, photography and sculptural objects to analyse and deconstruct messages that epitomise the contradictory nature of popular culture.
Grubesic has had solo shows at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb, Natalia Goldin Gallery in Stockholm, Alida Ivanov Gallery in Stockholm, Charles Bank Gallery in New York, and most recently at Niclas Belenius Gallery in Stockholm. His work has been exhibited at Kunstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin, The Modern and National museums of Stockholm as well as Tensta Konsthall, Kiasma in Helsinki, Bibliotheca Alexandria in Egypt, Lautom Contemporary in Oslo, Laviola Banks Gallery in New York, and Maria Stenfors Gallery in London.

Allen Grubesic is represented by Gallery Niklas Belenius, Stockholm and is currently showing at Oslo Kunstföreningen.

God gets good PR in Sweden

Swedish art director Dag Söderberg has designed the Bible as a glossy fashion magazine. The idea is to make the Holy book more accessible to a modern day audience. Released last year, it has become a huge success, being featured in Newsweek. Former Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson received a copy, as a gift from the Swedish archbishop, reports Future Design Days. The next release of “Bible Illuminated: The New Testament” will be in the US, that might not be so welcoming to Söderberg’s ad-style styling. Maybe he’s trying to earn himself some good karma points for working years in advertising.